Multi-national defense programs have gone from isolated instances to a major defense industry trend over the last two decades, and technology transfers are a critical and often-overlooked aspect of that trend. They also play a major role in fostering interoperability among allied militaries, especially those who wish to keep up with the USA and its seemingly endless stream of high-tech kit.
Britain is the USA’s single most important global defense relationship, and they were promised a waiver for the USA’s International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) under the Clinton administration in 2000. That waiver would enable the UK to acquire and make use of certain US military technologies without going through a tortuous license approval process. Now, with British troops fighting side-by-side with US forces in Iraq and major projects like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (and its associated CVF carriers) moving into a critical phase, British officials are becoming increasingly angry that the US had been unable to deliver.
Absent a satisfactory resolution, the risk that British defense procurement will shift explicitly toward European links and partners as a more dependable alternative is growing. If it is unfair to describe the present British state of mind as analogous to The Boston Tea Party, Thomas Jefferson’s 1774 “A Summary View of the Rights of British America” might not be very far off the mark.
This is surely a development that could carry long-term foreign policy and defense implications for both countries, with ripples that extend beyond to new US alliances like India, where unease concerning US reliability as a supplier/ partner is palpable. DID explains the current situation, the source and root of opposition in the American political system to ITAR waivers for Britain and Australia, and the prognosis for progress.